When And How Did Hiram Bingham Discover The Inca City Of Machu Picchu?

The ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru.

What Is Machu Picchu?

Machu Picchu is a 15th century Inca city located on a mountain side 7,970 feet above the sea level in the Sacred Valley in Urambe Province, Machupicchu District, Peru. Archaeologists estimate that Machu Picchu must have been built by the Inca Emperor Pachacuti between 1438 and 1472 and it is a popular site for the Inca Civilization. The city was built in 1450 and is often erroneously called the ‘Lost City of the Incas.’ It was abandoned a century later during the Spanish invasion. Although the City was known by the locals, the Spanish knew about it during colonization. It remained unknown to the rest of the world until it was discovered by Hiram Bingham in 1911.

Historical Background Of Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu was constructed around 1450 during the reigns of Pachacutec and Tupac. The city was abandoned a decade later, around 1572, as a result of the Spanish invasion. It is also likely that the inhabitants of the city died of smallpox which was introduced by the travelers before the Spanish conquest. The Spanish were not able to find the city of Machu Picchu despite it being located just 50 miles away from the Inca Capital in Cusco. Thus, the city was neither conquered nor plundered by the Spanish unlike the other cities and towns in the region. The surrounding jungle overgrew the site over the centuries with only a few people knowing of its existence until it was discovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham.

Who Was Hiram Bingham?

Born in Hawaii in 1875, Hiram was a buccaneering American Explorer. He was educated privately in England and attended Yale University where he developed an interest in studying Latin American History. In 1900, he married Alfreda Mitchell who had inherited the Tiffany jewelry fortune. Hiram used the fortune to travel America, especially South America. He discovered the ruins of Machu Picchu City in 1911 bringing it to international limelight. He later joined politics and was elected as Senator for Connecticut in the 1920s and 1930s. He died at the age of 80 in 1956.

How Did Bingham Discover The ‘Lost City of Inca?’

Bingham explored the historic South American trade route in 1906 taking the old route that led to Cusco. In 1911, he led a team of seven to Peru searching for the lost city of Vilcabamba which took him and his team to a small village known as Mandor Pampa. There they came across a local farmer called Arteaga who informed Bingham of extensive ruins on the nearby mountain called Machu Picchu by the locals, translating to ‘Old Mountains.’ The next day Arteaga led Bingham and his team up the Huayna Picchu Mountain. They came across a hut on top of the mountain which was occupied by a peasant farmer and his family. The farmer’s son, Pablito, then led them to the main ruins. The ruins were covered by vegetation with Bingham describing them as ‘great flight of magnificently built stone walls made of the finest quality of Inca Stonework.’ Bingham erroneously referred to Machu Picchu as Vilcabamba Viejo. The excavation of the site began in 1912 with further excavations undertaken in 1914 and 1915. Bingham took hundreds of artifacts to the US for research and safekeeping, an action which angered the locals who formed a coalition to defend the site.


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